Through The Wormhole; Converting The Streams With An Improvised Buffer.
There have always been two major paradigms when it comes to fictional settings, like those used in role-playing games. They don’t get any more distanced than those of science-fiction and fantasy. In fact, both of these tend to be firmly established as existing at opposite ends of the setting spectrum.
To even the most casual observer, any reference to one often excludes the other. You want to talk about magic and wondrous creatures? The conversation could quickly draw the criticism of science-fiction fans. Discussing bizarre beasts from some alien realm or weapons that can hurl bolts of blazing energy? Fantasy enthusiasts might take up arguments against the complicated or unrealistic nature of the concepts.
The whole thing is a little ironic, not to mention completely fruitless. It is akin to debating who has the faster jet; batman or the x-men. Neither are real vehicles and both of them only serve as a fictional story element for their respective settings. However, at their core they are both mechanically the same.
Expanding on this analogy, consider this less-clear comparison; Gandalf’s horse Shadowfax and Luke Skywalker’s Tauntaun. At first impression there is little the two beasts have in common. Shadowfax is an intelligent creature with speed, endurance and a lifespan unlike other horses. Tauntauns are slower and less clever but able to exist in some rather extreme environments.
Structurally they both transport the hero through the story. Each one has their own unique feel and identity to it as well. However they are living, breathing beasts of burden that exist within their described worlds.
Taking everything one final step farther; in an 80’s animated series the titular hero Marshall Bravestarr had his own personal mount that was tailor made for the science-fiction landscape. It was a cyborg horse that not only could transform itself between a quadrupedal horse mode and a bipedal humanoid one but it also carried its own gun. The horse’s name was 30-30 (like the infamous .30 caliber lever action saddle gun preferred by many cowboys).
Standing Shadowfax side by side with 30-30 might seem as ludicrous as trying to compare a horse to a speeder bike in star wars. Truth be told, even that could be used to prove my point. The end result is a crudely simple one; regardless of how technological or robotic the theme/flavor may be they are both born from the same basic concepts.
A mount is a mount. You can call a horse a tauntaun or even a speeder bike but they both serve to convey a character from one scenic plot site to another. They each have their own setting appropriate traits and features but they are just descriptive fluff layered atop a mechanical base that is the foundation.
Within a fantasy world it makes sense to see people riding horses, pulling carts with mules or ponies – even an enchanted wagon or a magically mechanical mare isn’t out of place. By contrast it logically fits for science-fiction landscapes to fill in the same functions with automated anti-gravity automobiles, robots that you ride on and flying cargo carriers. Theme and flavor refine/define the core concept into something that is completely at home for the setting. But once you strip all that away it is just another thing that is meant to serve a standard function.
Once you really start to grasp this initial idea you can apply it towards all manner of aspects of a setting. A weapon allows you to attack. Does that mean that a blaster rifle is all that different than a bow or crossbow? The armor that has developed alongside both weapons has been shaped by that weapon technology. As such, in a world with bows armor is crafted for the purposes of defending against it. In the realm of blaster battles armor has been shaped by being shot at with blazing bolts.
When you really put things into perspective, everything scales into translation. At the heart of fantasy, magic is the source of so much wonder and mystery. However, if you step over into science-fiction technology takes its place. Arthur C. Clarke said it aptly; “magic is just science that we don’t understand yet.”
Many an adventuring hero has had to draw a torch to make their way down into some dark depths. In some space station a brave soul might light their way with a glow stick instead. What difference is there than their descriptions? They both are disposable light sources. One may be able to ignite other flammable materials while the other can be wet and still work. If you want to split hairs you could replace the glow stick for a flare and end up with another analog for the torch.
Even science-fiction staples like powered armor can find a fitting relative from fantasy. Magic armor that makes you hard to be hurt or stronger, faster etc. serves the same function as high-tech armor like powered armor. An injection of tissue repairing nanites is no different than a healing potion. A +1 to hit on attack rolls may come from divine guidance/blessing just as it could be the influence generated by targeting software.
Deep down, at the heart of everything both genres share a lot of the same elements – albeit using different themes and flavor. Once you can see past all this and understand how magic/technology is used to provide an influence over the setting you can grasp the interactions.
Think about it sometime.
Feel free to share your thoughts, there is plenty to expand on.